This may be a first. In part three we ran through a list of criteria for our ideal cloud back-up service. In this, part four, we’re going to work through SpiderOak using that list. Just for the novelty.
To quote the marketing puff on www.spideroak.com:
“SpiderOak provides an easy, secure and consolidated free online backup, sync, sharing, access and storage solution for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora & openSUSE)”
Remember this is a hosted service with it’s own client software, all built around a particular security and cross-platform model. You don’t get a choice of storage locations or hosts…
The SpiderOak Inc. price plan is very simple and has two levels:
- SpiderOak 2Gb Free offers you 2 Gb’s of online storage free for life. This is not a great deal of space. This is enough to trial the service and maybe keep some essentials such as your unfinished novel and inbox. My Full Circle Magazine archive is 150Mb. My four photo archive folders are 935Mb.
- SpiderOak Plus Account goes from 100Gb up to whatever you can afford. The price is $10 per month per 100Gb increment, or pay yearly and get the 100Gb increment for $100. So 200Gb is $20 a month. However, if you go over to 101Gb, that’s still $20 a month. Now 100Gb is a substantial increment and perhaps you’ll never fill it – not intentionally.
You can have multiple SpiderOak accounts running on the same computer; I know of a case where a paid account backs up all of the media files on a machine, while a different free account backs up the user’s Documents folder.
You can install the SpiderOak client on as many computers as you like and you can be completely cross-platform. Installation is a little bit quirky, particularly as it doesn’t ask for the account verification code until late. Setting the password for encryption is built into the installer, which is a rapid, guided process.
As for the main SpiderOak window, I’m undecided as to whether it is fashionably ‘retro’ or just a bit clunky. There is a lot going on, with tabs and, in effect, sub-tabs grouping functions together. The status tab provides plenty of information regarding connection, back-ups, sync and shares, your current queue.
The Back Up tab is just a place for you to specify what files you would like to include in a back-up. Each category on the selection list corresponds to a folder on your computer, even ‘Desktop’. The bottom bar gauges how much of your cloud storage allocation your selection will occupy, color-coded by folder so you can see what take most space. The Sync page is where you to set which folders remain synced between your computers.
Should you need to access your files from an unregistered device, you can do that through the SpiderOak web interface. When you download a file, the file is saved in your Downloads folder, with a date-time stamp appended to the filename, giving you much needed version control information.
Ease of Use
Functions such as the installer and setting up shares both run through a guided interface. After that, a lot can be done through the tabs under Preferences; Backup, Schedule and Copy being the most important and where SpiderOak gets a lot of its flexibility. The Schedule tab provides a simple one-stop control for Backup Sync and Share either to a frequency or to a specific day and hour.
The View tab has more power than the name suggests, in that you can select down to the file level what to include in your back-up or share, along with the version history. The buttons along the top take some getting used to.
SpiderOak can be used to sync files across multiple computers, on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac and Linux). So the usual example is to can work on a file in the office, save it to SpiderOak and have it on the home PC and Mac when you arrive. Work on it there and see the changes over on the original the next day.
Sadly there is little by way of drag and drop operation, it’s all very point-and-click. There’s no drag and drop to restore. The default configuration doesn’t back-up important data files like Evolution, Thunderbird (or Outlook) e-mail, or Quickbooks databases. The ‘cross-platform’ pledge only goes so far.
SpiderOak’s advantage over other online back-up services is that older versions of a file are retained. For example, delete a file; it’s moved to your “Deleted Items” folder in SpiderOak and can only be permanently deleted from there using the SpiderOak software interface.
In case of a rare failure, SpiderOak has a much-lauded range of support options, including e-mail, phone, Twitter (@spideroak_help), Skype chat, support blogs and Skype phone support. Submit an email ticket describing your issue and you should get a speedy and useful response.
SpiderOak takes data security very seriously. Like all the better back-up services, data is encrypted and transmitted over a secure connection, a layered approach using a combination of 2048-byte RSA and 256-bit AES. Better yet, SpiderOak encrypts even the file and folder names, so SpiderOak employees can’t tell what you have backed up.
The downside, of course, is that you forget your password and nobody can access your data.
For all that, file access isn’t as secure as I’d like. The problem is that any files you back-up on one machine are visible on any other machine that uses the same account (with the same SpiderOak account password). Use SpiderOak for your personal files, then use the same SpiderOak account for your kids’ computers and maximum embarrassment, fit for a sit-com, ensues on all sides.
This is Cloud back-up, so untangling the performance of the back-up service from that of your broadband is not always easy. Let’s say that SpiderOak runs respectably over a domestic wireless network onto a consumer broadband connection for both back-up and restore, so the local software and the remote data storage have not proved a bottleneck thusfar. That said, I am not using it to back-up an entire hard drive, only selected folders.
SpiderOak understands version control. Your first back-up set is a full set; for subsequent back-ups of the same defined set, only the changes of the backup set are transmitted, so it won’t massively compromise your storage limit to hold several versions of files; if you do breach your limit, you can manually delete old versions. SpiderOak provides version history with no time limit, so if you alter or delete a file you can ‘roll back’ to an earlier version, even after months or years. However, don’t confuse backup with file-sharing. SpiderOak is like most the syncing services in that changes are synchronised instantly and in real-time, so that any accidental change you make while online will automatically sync to the server. The damage quickly ripples through your backups and Share Rooms, like entropy.
Not only does SpiderOak run across multiple computers, it’s public sharing service is implemented though “Share Rooms”. These are virtual folders which are password-protected and through which you can share your data anyone you like. A change made to a defined synchronisation set on any computer running SpiderOak automatically triggers that changes to be published to the share room. The ShareID is the Public username.
Access to the ShareRoom is in one of two ways:
- by entering your ShareID and unique RoomKey on SpiderOak homepage using the ‘Share Login’ or
- by emailing out the Shareroom link to guests.
SpiderOak creates an online photo album when sharing photos. Like Dropbox public links it works fine for posting images a selected few images, but it’s no substitute for the full range of gallery tools in services like Picasa and Photobucket.
As well as the dedicated clients for PC, Mac, Windows and Android, there’s a browser-based SpiderOak web-application. You can’t upload files from the browser, but you can download any file or whole folder as a zip file. It is easy to access your files from anywhere, but not as convenient but not to save files.
If Andrew Min does a ‘Top 5 Cloud Back-up Services’ in a few months I suspect SpiderOak may not be there under it’s current name or ownership; it’s an effective service with some feature-rich clients provided by a nice little company with some nice people supporting it. It’s just the thing that bigger companies buy-out to gain a complete product that just works. Balancing features against simplicity, it does cater for most things you need in a Cloud back-up. AJS